Should all papers be published in English?

The Deutsche Ärzteblatt is the official journal of the German Medical Association, just as the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Starting January 21, an English language version of the journal will be available.

The publisher and editors of the journal decided to make this step to have the journal articles better indexed in databases such as PubMed and available to more readers. This should lead to more citations of journal articles, resulting in a better Impact Factor and reputation of the journal.

100 years ago, German was an important scientific language, but now only 2% of journals indexed in Medline are in German. I personally haven't written a scientific paper in German in for many years. I sometimes regret that I can't use German (or French or Italian for that matter) to report by findings or express my ideas. But in the end it makes the exchange of ideas between scientists much easier if we can all use the same language. And Nature Network is a good example for this.

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10 Responses to Should all papers be published in English?

  1. Nicolau Werneck says:

    You _can_ use German to express your ideas. You also can use it to express ideas that you may find difficult to express in English. I would say even that you _should_ do it from time to time.
    In fact, to this day there are a bunch of interesting words and expressions from German that came into the international scientific jargon in the last 2 centuries, such as gedankenexperiment, eigenvector and gestalt…
    People should more often do the following exercise: write something in you own language, and only then try to translate it to english. You will see that every language has its own riches.
    It is no secret to anyone that “Sapir-Whorf”: hypothesis has its strength. Language does shape a bit the way we think.
    We must fight. But not to forbid people from talking in english, or other imperialistic arrogant language, and certainly not to make them speak only in English. We must fight for the _plurality_ of languages.
    I welcome an English version of German journal, or from any other original languages. And I believe authors should make an effort to write in their original languages first, and only then translate their texts.
    Don’t come telling me people should save their times and only speak language around the world. I refuse. Portuguese will never die!
    It is shameful to have difficulty to express scientific things in your mother tongue. Whenever you feel that you are reading and writing too much about a certain subject only in English, and that you are starting to have difficulties in talking about those subjects, you should make an effort to adapt the subject to your language. I’m not saying we should be forbidden to use foreign words, It’s OK to borrow specific words… And it´s even better to find out that your own language has some very interesting words that can be used in english to express things they might not have a proper word to (portuguese ‘saudade’ is a famous example)
    Science is all about logic, and talking is the rhetoric part of science. when you say people are lazy and use only a single language, we are saying we are losing our rhetoric powers. This is not beautiful…
    Perhaps we should create an all-logical language, even better then english, something like interlingua or lojban, totally logical, what do you thing? Our articles would be just a bunch of cryptic mathematical equations…
    Never forget that restricting the use of languages is a very powerful tool for opression and domination, and we are talking here about possibly oppressing the scientists of foreign nations inside the international scientific community, something quite strong… This is never a subject to be taken lightly.
    Você _pode_ usar alemão para se expressar. Pode também o utilizar para expressar idéias que você pode achar difíceis de expressar em inglês. Eu até diria que você _deve_ fazer isso de vez em quando.
    De fato, ate hoje existem um punhado de expressões interessantes do alemão que entraram no jargão científico internacional nos últimos dois séculos, como gedankenexperiment, eigenvector e gestalt…
    As pessoas deviam fazer mais frequentemente o seguinte exercício: escrever algo em sua própria língua, e apenas então tentar traduzir para o inglês. Você vai ver que toda língua tem suas riquezas.
    Não é segredo para ninguém que a hipótese de “Sapir-Whorf”: tem a sua força. A língua molda de fato um pouco a forma como pensamos.
    Precisamos lutar. Mas não para proibir pessoas de falarem em inglês, ou qualquer outra língua imperialista e arrogante, e certaemnte não para obrigá-las a falar apenas inglês. Devemos lutar pela _pluralidade_ de línguas.
    Eu recebo com prazer uma versão em inglês de uma publicação alemã, ou de qualquer outra língua original. Mas acredito que autores deveriam fazer um esforço para escrever em suas línguas primeiro, para só então traduzir seus textos.
    Não venham me dizer que as pessoas deveriam poupar seus tempos e falar apenas uma língua ao redor do mundo. Eu me recuso. O Português nunca há de morrer!!
    Chega de infantilidade. Chega de imperialismo. Chega de arrogância. Chega da cultura do ‘povo prático” anglo-saxão. Intelectual que é intelectual tem que saber falar bem pelo menos umas três línguas. Três línguas latinas, indo-européias, que são todas parecidas. No século XXI a gente devia tar se preocupando era em aprender mais árabe, chinês e línguas africanas, e não ficar pregando o aprendizado de MENOS línguas. Vocês estão na contramão da história, e vão ser atropelados pelo trem dela a uma velocidade ainda maior do que poderiam.

  2. Nicolau Werneck says:

    Now, answering your question more succinctly: yes, they _should_ all be published in English. They _should_ *also* be published in German, Portuguese, French, Latin, Lojban, Welsh, Basque, Swahili, Korean, and every single other language of this and other planets…

  3. Nicholas Wigginton says:

    This touches on a similar topic for me because I am considering a post-doc in a country where English is not an official language. Although the science that the groups I am looking into publish _everything_ in English, some operate their labs in the national language whereas others prefer their science to be done exclusively in science. I find this very interesting.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    thanks a lot for the detailed response. This *is* a very complicated topic, and you touched on some of the important aspects. I was fortunate enough to spend four years in a different country with a different language, doing a postdoc in Boston. The experience of talking, writing and thinking in a different language has been very rewarding. The language influences your thinking. My skills in other languages (French, Italian) are too limited for a scientific discussion, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same ideas would take a different shape when expressed in these languages.
    As you rightfully point out, restriciting the language to English puts a lot of scientists into a disadvantage. A few weeks ago we had a very interesting “discussion”: in the *Ask the Nature Editor Forum* about the quality of the writing and the likelihood of paper acceptance.

  5. Cesar Sanchez says:

    I have always believed that, in an ideal world, everybody should understand *all languages* (which is impossible). As it has been pointed out, language shapes the way we think; sometimes in very subtle ways, unnoticed by us until someone else makes a comment on the matter (this person is often a speaker of a different language). The use of a single (or very predominant) language for communication (of science, in this case) results in an impoverishment of the process; however, because we don’t live in an ideal world, it currently seems the only choice for worldwide exchange of ideas. Although not an ideal solution, perhaps in a near future some systems for fully automated translation will make a difference…

  6. Martin Fenner says:

    “This”: article appeared in the current issue of the Deutsche Ärzteblatt and explains the decision in more detail. The article is only available in German (sic!), but “this”: graph can be understood without knowing German. The graph shows the percentage of Medline journals published in English in different countries. Only 25-30% of French, Chinese or Spanish journals, but 70-90% of Japanese, German or Swiss journals are published in English.

  7. Juan J SCHMITTER-SOTO says:

    The dilemma seems to be: universality with discrimination (use only English), or, equality with loss of communication (use as many languages as you like).
    To solve the dilemma, we do not need an all-logical language. What we need is a politically neutral language. Latin could do the work, but it is by no means easy to learn. I believe that Esperanto is a viable alternative, easy to learn and in no way aligned to a given nation.
    It is certainly true that an intense terminological work would be needed, but Esperanto was designed to assimilate or create neologisms, which it has done repeatedly along its 120-year existence. The language does have a modest original literature and a small but truly international community of speakers, proving that it is a living tongue and a viable option, at least in theory.

  8. Linda McInnes says:

    It would help if studies/journals were written in English as I am currently writing a paper and I needed other studies to review, the ones that were in another language will not be included as I could not translate them.
    I am sure non English people will have the same problem trying to understand English studies, so I suppose it would be best if they were translated into each language, that would cover everyone.

  9. Haydon Mort says:

    An important part of science is exposing your ideas to constructive criticism. The more criticism you get, the more robust is the resulting body of science. Publishing in English ensures that you get the maximum exposure of your work to your scientific peers. Publishing in German, for example, allows exposure to people in Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland. There are plenty of smart German speakers who will be ready to blow holes in German written research. But that is still a tiny fraction of the global community.
    I sympathize with scientists who don’t write English well and I believe that they should be able to publish in their own language if they choose. Just don’t expect many people to read it. So in the interest of the best possible science, I think it is critical that important advances in our understanding are made in a language with the widest possible audience. At present, that language is English.

  10. Martin Fenner says:

    Esperanto probably could have become the language for the international scientific community. But, at least for now, English is that language. Therefore we should make sure that native English speakers don’t have an unfair advantage in communicating science. Unfortunately I don’t see that this is the case. It helps your scientific career if your mother’s native language was English.